SPRING LAKE — Hiring a new town manager and a finance director are among the top goals the Spring Lake Board of Aldermen hopes to achieve as the new year begins.
Alderman Raul Palacios said hiring a qualified town manager is at the top of his list of goals for the year.
“We have to get this right,’’ Palacios said. “Even if it means a delayed decision, we must get this right.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robyn Chadwick and Alderman Marvin Lackman agreed that hiring a town manager was the main priority.
“We need a town manager who will come in and manage the town properly so that Spring Lake can move forward,’’ Lackman said. “One without a hidden agenda. The LGC (Local Government Commission) has given us a blueprint for the town manager, so we need to take that and utilize that for hiring our town manager.”
The Local Government Commission in early December gave the board clear parameters when it came to what the town needs in a manager and offered its assistance in helping hire a town manager after denying the employment contract for Justine Jones. Jones was hired by the board subject to LGC approval in a 3-2 vote, but ultimately was rejected by the commission because she lacked town management and financial experience it felt the next town manager needed.
In a letter to the board, Local Government Commission Secretary Sharon Edmundson outlined four qualifications for manager, including:
Lackman said interim Town Manager Jason Williams, who is also the town’s fire chief, was managing well so residents should feel at ease that things were being done at Town Hall.
Taking ownership of financial matters, including completing the 2022 fiscal year audit and participating in the 2023 budget process, are also among the goals for some board members.
“We are past the deadline to complete the audit. It was due Dec. 1,” Palacios said.
David Erwin, the town finance officer and accounting and financial management advisor for the Department of the State Treasurer, told the board this fall that the audit might not be completed by the deadline because they were having to meticulously check records and had to bring on a third person to help through the process.
Chadwick said one of her main priorities was to balance the general fund, which is what Erwin said the town is on track to do as long as it stays conservative in its spending.
Lackman said working with the LGC to complete the audit findings and restore the fund balance are also at the top of his list. Then finding a qualified finance officer and finance staff is something that will hopefully happen after hiring a town manager.
“Once we get those pieces in place, we should be more comfortable with the day-to-day running of Spring Lake,’’ Lackman said. “We need an update on our finances from the LGC. From what we gather, our fund balance is improving. And we are always hoping that our town employees identify ways to save and improve Spring Lake.”
Having more input into the budget process is important as well, especially to Palacios.
“While the budget is currently in the hands of the LGC, the town needs to have greater input into this process and express its own desires,’’ he said. “No one can advocate better for our needs.”
One of the ways that the town can benefit is by upgrading financial software and equipment.
“We need to prioritize our department needs and provide staff the tools to rebuild Spring Lake,’’ Lackman said. “From software for the Finance Department to a new roller for the streets and new leaf vacuum for leaf pickup, we need to address the areas that have been neglected for years.”
Lackman also said Williams is working to get equipment fixed or replaced and residents should be seeing an improvement in the streets of their neighborhoods.
“Something small like fixing the chipper that has been out of commission so that we can grind small trees and other yard debris into mulch would be great for our community,’’ Lackman said. “It would help keep the debris out of the landfills and help beautify yards by recirculating.”
Since the beginning of 2022, Lackman has led an effort called Spring Lake Matters, which has been a monthly cleanup in parks, neighborhoods and streets in Spring Lake. Often joined by Palacios and Alderwoman Adrian Thompson, the group of more than 70 volunteers has picked up over 179 bags of trash and 3,260 pounds of debris.
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Palacios also said that starting a capital improvement plan to revitalize Main Street and begin saving over the next budget cycle for that effort is important to him.
“It's time for Spring Lake to lead the way in revitalizing, and it starts on Main Street,’’ Palacios said. “We need to send a message and be leaders by starting the process ourselves. That will hopefully motivate our stakeholders and inspire development. Saving for our town and restoring pride is a power we hold and we can execute.”
Upgrading the town’s financial software was also a priority for Lackman and Palacios.
“We have to upgrade town software to stabilize town policies and practices,’’ Palacios said. “The town must prevent mismanagement going forward.”
“We can help accomplish this by upgrading our internal software. We are operating more efficiently than we were at the time of our state investigation, but the town needs continued enforcement. We also need stronger security measures in our software to prevent breaches.”
Chadwick said she also would like to see American Rescue Plan Act funds used for the community as well as looking at opportunities to address infrastructure and transportation needs.
Another priority for Lackman is improving community relations with residents, businesses and community leaders.
“We’ve tried to get committees back in place so we have community involvement, getting information out there with the Police Department’s Conversations with Cops and being consistent in doing cleanups every month,” Lackman said.
Lackman said he is in contact with religious leaders and military-related groups along with residents to help bring them to the table.
“Communication and involvement are key,” he said.
In September, the Board of Aldermen met for a retreat to discuss how to achieve goals in the next six to 12 months.
Among the goals were:
Aldermen said after their retreat that the board would be adopting goals and objectives from the list.
Mayor Kia Anthony, Alderwoman Sona Cooper and Alderwoman Adrian Thompson did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView. She can be reached at email@example.com.